An interesting article has appeared about Hicks.
[b:a9bbbe0f6d]Interview: The couple who claim they can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams' [/b:a9bbbe0f6d]
Esther and Jerry Hicks claim they can make you rich and successful beyond your wildest dreams. And they've certainly been raking it in since helping to inspire the international bestseller 'The Secret'. Ahead of their UK tour, the former circus acrobat and secretary-turned-spirit-channeller reveal their controversial techniques.
Interview by Robert Chalmers
Published: 08 July 2007
Sitting alone in the Crazy Elk Diner, the café at a trailer resort in northern Colorado, I try to gauge my mood, using the scale of 22 emotions provided in Esther and Jerry Hicks's best-selling book, Ask And It Is Given.
Having spent two hours driving across the state, I arrived here at the Elk Meadow Lodge Resort 50 minutes early for my appointment with the book's authors, but five minutes too late for the "All You Can Eat Pancake Breakfast", with the result that just now, working down the Hicks's karmic league table, I can't find anything to relate to until I reach #12: "Disappointment." From then on, with half an eye on the staff clearing the buffet area, I begin to score more consistently, as we come to 15: "Blame," 16: "Discouragement," 17: "Anger" and 18: "Revenge." After a while I'm joined by a group of Baptists who begin singing: "I've got a home in glory land that outshines the sun," further relegating me to condition 21: "Guilt/Unworthiness."
My interviewees, relaxing in a motor home 200 yards away, are a former secretary and a one-time circus acrobat who have long been strangers to any ranking below 1: "Joy/Knowledge/Empowerment/Freedom/Love and Appreciation." In the US, Esther and Jerry Hicks, with the help of commendations from Oprah Winfrey, have sold almost 1.5m copies of their last three books. In March, their most recent work, The Law of Attraction, reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list. The Hicks travel the country advertising the benefits of the Law of Attraction: a philosophy which, simply stated, argues that, if you attune your desires accurately enough to the vibrational frequencies of the universe, whatever you wish for will be granted. Next spring they're coming to Britain, seeking to replicate their success in North America, where citizens have handed over millions of dollars in the hope of securing not just money, lovers and mansions, but luxury automobiles and better luck at finding spaces in public car parks.
Just one glance at the vehicle that occupies Elk Meadow's bay B31 removes any doubt as to how well the Law of Attraction has worked for the Hicks. Dwarfing the camper vans and Winnebagos that surround it, is a luxury coach of the kind owned by only the wealthiest rock stars.
Welcoming me on board, Esther Hicks tells me that the bus - using that noun in relation to this vehicle is rather like describing Buckingham Palace as a multi-tenanted inner-city property - cost $1.4m. She asks me to remove my shoes, then shows me the immaculate interior: the beige leather seats; the dishwasher mounted on shock absorbers; the double bed at the rear. Her husband Jerry demonstrates the operation of the toilet, which has a convex electrical door similar to the kind installed on Virgin Trains, except that this one works. (omega)
Esther and her husband are welcoming, if visibly on edge. As Jerry explains, they very rarely give interviews.
"We turned down The Larry King Show," he says. "We turned down all those shows."
"That," Esther confirms, "isn't the way we work."
Their personal life, it would be fair to say, is not an open book. Neither of the Hicks will volunteer their date of birth, because "astrologers feel so inspired to give feedback that it is oppressive." According to one normally reliable website, which trawls census records, Esther is 59 and Jerry 80: figures that, if correct, bear witness to the physical benefits of the moderate lives they say they have lived.
For the past 21 years the pair have been touring the US, hosting weekly workshops; people now come in their hundreds and are charged $195 for the day. Every session is filmed, and the keenest of their 10,000 subscribers can pay up to $50 a month for these and other recordings. The couple also organise regular cruises: there are still places available on next year's 10-day Mediterranean expedition, priced at between $2,000 and $6,000 per berth. Their headquarters, at San Antonio, Texas, is set in 40 acres of land. Admirers come to learn more about improving their lives by asking questions about the Law of Attraction; the replies, they believe, are given to them directly from Abraham, a group of spirit entities whose thoughts Esther Hicks translates into English, once she has entered into a meditative state.
"When I started receiving," says Esther, who dislikes the term spirit channelling, "I thought of Abraham as some dead guy who was really smart. The more they spoke, the more I began thinking they were infinite intelligence that we are tapping in to."
In the beginning, Jerry says, "I wanted people to be able to help themselves, financially. People thought - well, if you have enough money, you can buy health. A rich man can always find a woman. If you have enough money you can buy almost anything."
Somewhat belatedly, after two decades spent preaching that you make your own luck, Esther and Jerry Hicks hit their major jackpot in March 2006, with the extraordinary success of a DVD called The Secret, a peculiar collage of mystical instruction assembled by the Australian producer Rhonda Byrne. The film has sold almost two million copies in the US, and turned out to be the most influential new age project in the past 20 years. In February of this year, Byrne's book, also called The Secret, written in less than a month, went to number one on the New York Times list of advice and miscellaneous books.
The original version of the DVD features many lifestyle gurus, including Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup For The Soul, but Esther Hicks was a central source of the film's inspiration, as well as its narrator and star. The main thrust of The Secret was the Law of Attraction, which Mrs Hicks had described in some detail to Byrne, on camera, during an Abraham cruise in 2005.
After sensing grave vibrational imbalances between themselves and Rhonda Byrne, mainly in the areas of money and intellectual property rights, the Hicks demanded to be removed from the film. The Secret, which had already earned the American couple $500,000, representing their 10 per-cent-cut of DVD sales, was reissued last October, with Esther edited out. The second version is even more disjointed than the first; watching it is a bit like sitting through 90 minutes of Channel 4 daytime advertising. Esther and Jerry, meanwhile, have released their own highly successful DVD, The Secret Behind The Secret, starred on a special three-part edition of Oprah Winfrey's radio show, and seen a huge increase in the popularity of their Abraham movement.
The couple now see celebrities for private consultations.
"Have any come to your shows?"
"Eddie Izzard," says Jerry. [Izzard, through his agent, says he has never heard of the Hicks.] "And Minnie Driver. She came to a workshop and asked a question." [At the time of going to press, I was awaiting a response from Driver's agent.]
"You know how an icebreaker is a clumsy vessel designed to break ice?" Jerry tells me. "I see The Secret as the icebreaker for the Law of Attraction, which we've been teaching for 20 years. We're cruising behind in our yacht, comfortably."
"It's hard to calculate," says Esther, "how much we have benefited from The Secret."
"Millions," Jerry interrupts. "Millions." These days, he says, "I can't imagine money not just pouring in."
Esther and Jerry Hicks met in Fresno, California, in 1976; they married four years later. She was a book-keeper; Jerry, by his own account, had made a fortune by reaching the top echelons of Amway, a controversial multi-level marketing corporation whose product lines include cosmetics, jewellery and insurance. Critics claim the organisation has employed quasi-religious motivational techniques; certainly Amway [now called Quixar in America] has, like Abraham, generated substantial traffic on cult-watch websites. Jerry Hicks ascribes his business success to Napoleon Hill's seminal 1937 book, Think And Grow Rich.
Before Esther met Jerry, she says she'd had no unusual spiritual experiences.
"So how was it," I ask her, "that you first came to transmit messages from Abraham?"
It started in the mid-1980s, she tells me, when the couple were living in Phoenix, Arizona.
"Jerry had been reading the Seth books [channelled messages from a spirit guide, written by the late Jane Roberts]. I was afraid. Seth spooked me. But I warmed to it. I'd lay on the sofa and Jerry would tickle my feet, and we'd read Seth for hours every day."
"Why did he have to tickle your feet?"
"Because," she replies, "I like having my feet tickled."
Friends in Phoenix, Esther says, introduced them to a woman named Sheila who channelled a spirit called Theo.
"They told me the name of my guide would be given to me in a clairaudient experience. Theo asked us to meditate; to sit in a room and focus on our breathing."
When they got home, Esther recalls, she and Jerry changed into their bathrobes and sat together, in wing-backed chairs.
"We put an étagère between us, because it felt so strange. Almost immediately I was numb. I couldn't tell my foot from my nose. Something breathed me. That's how I describe it. It was my first contact with Abraham. I was convulsing in ecstasy, making noises ..."
"What do you mean, noises?"
"Ecstatic sounds," says Jerry.
"You mean like sex?" I ask her.
"Yes. The energy was so strong that my teeth were buzzing - zzzzz. Abraham were moving my head. Later I realised that I was spelling letters in the air with my nose."
By Christmas 1985 she was receiving verbally transmittable messages about the Law of Attraction. The following year, the pair began holding private consultations; three years later they were hiring conference rooms at Courtyard Marriott Hotels.
"We weren't in it for the money," says Esther - this is a point regularly emphasised - "but for the expansion of the message."
The previous day I'd attended an Abraham "Art Of Allowing" workshop at The Hilton in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was one of around 200 delegates, 80 per cent of them women. Considering that we'd gathered to listen to spirit entities transmitting advice on how to attract more of certain things - notably dollars - the atmosphere was surprisingly convivial. Very few of those present had that worryingly distant look in their eye, and I saw no evidence of coercion or mind control.
Esther takes the stage in bare feet, wearing black stockings, black trousers of a cut that could almost qualify as Oxford bags, and a black three-quarter-length jacket which, combined with the exposed lapels of her white blouse, makes her look very like a preacher. Soon she's possessed by the spirit of Abraham: the transition is signalled by deep breathing, a nodding of the head, a half smile and a couple of low sighs.
Once transformed, she still sounds, to be frank, very like (omega) Esther, except that Abraham has a slightly robotic voice and is seriously over-attached to the present continuous tense - afflictions that, you may have noticed, also trouble extraterrestrial characters in 1950s science-fiction films. So Abraham will ask: "You are knowing what you are wanting?" or declare that: "We are appreciating your presence," and refers to Esther and Jerry in the third person.
Would-be speakers raise their hands and are called to "the hot seat", a chair facing the stage. Esther, or rather Abraham, points to an area of the audience and calls out: "Stand up if you think it's you" - a phrase that recalls the kind of vaudeville mantras employed in game shows like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The hot seat has been gaffer-taped to the floor, presumably to guard against problems with air traffic control.
A considerable number of questions relate to finance. One man wants "a big house", but reports that: "The worrying thing is that it's taking too long to happen."
"When life calls money to you," Esther says, "it comes if you let it. The universe lines it up for you."
While his wife is communing with the spirit world, Jerry is taking notes at the side of the stage, earnestly attentive like a legal stenographer.
The image of a river, and the terms "upstream" and "downstream" recur constantly. Moving "upstream", against the flow of the universe, represents bad living. Go "downstream" and nature will give you whatever you request, however impossible it seems.
"It is as easy to create a castle as a button," Esther observes, in a casual aside that suggests more familiarity with the thimble than the hod. "All you need do is keep going."
A big-boned man consults Abraham about his weight.
"I get up and go to the gym at 5am," he says. "The next thing I know, I'm in the Chinese." Another supplicant says that she's already had her question answered by Mike, Esther's genial cameraman. A third observes that: "Animals are always trying to get me to save them. I'm kind of tired of that... are they on a suicide mission?"
"That," Abraham replies, "is not how they see it."
One of the things that distinguishes Esther Hicks from other practitioners in her field is her quick wit, and genuine gift for irony. Towards the end of the session, a middle-aged woman takes the chair and announces: "With every ounce of my being, I need your insight. I do not feel who I really am in this physical body."
Esther pauses, then, with a sense of timing that would do credit to Julie Walters, turns to her cameraman and asks: "You wanna take this? It sounds like a hard one."
You can't help but be impressed by her stage presence, and the single-minded preoccupation with material gain, reflected both in the questions, and the piles of merchandise shifting past tills installed in the lobby. At one point, somebody asks Abraham about tithing - the regular donation of a percentage of your income. Tithing should be undertaken, Abraham says, "by inspiration, not obligation". The practice was not recommended.
"You must have taken a lot of money yesterday," I suggest to Esther, on the bus in the RV park.
"We're on the road darn near 365 days a year," Esther says. "We work 18 hours a day. It is dedicational. We give back everywhere we go," she adds, "to people who have had meaningful experiences."
At this point, instead of the words I'd been meaning to say ("I have had meaningful experiences") I find myself asking: "So your followers don't tithe?"
"We ask them not to," she replies.
"But some do?"
"Do you refuse tithing?"
"No," says Jerry.
Considering the reverence with which the couple are treated by their supporters, there is little on the record about their lives before Abraham. Esther has described herself simply as having grown up in "a little town in the Rocky Mountains".
"Where was that?"
"Park City," she says. It's just outside Salt Lake City, Utah.
"So that community was Mormon?"
"My family was Mormon; my dad was not."
One of her two sisters, Jeannie, was working the till at the Hilton. Esther's father, Henry, was in the lumber trade.
"My parents are gone now," she says. "It was a wonderful, nurturing environment. But when I was a teenager, my mother Ruth had a severe heart attack. She was more or less an invalid after that."
When Esther was 20, she says, "I met someone and married."
"When you say 'someone'... "
"Someone I am no longer married to."
"So you were married once before you met Jerry?"
"It doesn't sound like a blissful experience."
"No. Knowing about Law of Attraction now, I suppose my insecurity caused me to marry an authority figure. He was very difficult to live with."
Both Jerry and Esther were still married when they met at one of his Amway presentations.
"Are you Jerry's first wife?"
"I'm the fifth, that I know of."
When the conversation turns to their own past, the exuberance that propels their dialogue on the Law of Attraction wanes a little.
"The reason you never heard about these things," Esther says, "is that I don't ever talk about them. Or like to."
"It's not relevant," Jerry says.
"It's utterly irrelevant," Esther agrees.
"Jerry, I heard you were put into an orphanage for two years as an infant, is that right?"
"Daddy was in the navy. He and mother fought constantly, if they were there. My aunt told me: 'When you were a kid, your daddy was overseas and your mother just couldn't take it any more, so she put you in the orphanage'."
"Were you an only child?"
"No, but I was the first. I have a brother and sister."
"Do you think your mother gave you away out of depression, or poverty?"
"I get the sense," Esther intervenes, "that she was almost animal-like in that her selfish interests dominated her so powerfully. She was... unconformable, is that a word?"
"Did she take you back, after the orphanage?" I ask Jerry.
"My brother-in-law Joe," he replies, "told all of us children: 'You should be proud of your mother.' I said: 'What?' He said: 'Think of her background...' "
"Please don't tell this," says Esther.
"Joe," Jerry continues, undaunted, "said, 'You gotta remember that - one of her sisters - her husband cut up in little pieces, and put her in a well. Another of her sisters was a prostitute. Another was impaled on a fence and killed. One of her brothers was in and out of prison all of his life, then disappeared. Another brother got so drunk that he lost all his fingers and toes."
"That," says Esther, "is why I said don't tell this story."
"Joe told me how my mother came back, and came through that to raise us three children. My brother has a PhD. My sister was a nurse."
Details of their biography tend to be exposed momentarily, rather than volunteered. So far as I can work out, Jerry was raised in San Diego and Arkansas, mainly by his mother, before attending high school in New Orleans.
"As a child," he says, "I had coccidian mycosis. [A respiratory condition caused by spore inhalation.] Years later my lungs were so scarred that they wouldn't let me join the navy. When I was a young boy, the doctor said: 'There's nothing I can do. He probably won't live.' "
"You heard him say that?"
"Twice. We were living in chicken houses. I had one to myself because they thought I had TB. My sister, brother and mother lived in another chicken house."
Jerry says he was employed for two years as an acrobat (omega) at a circus in Cuba, where he performed on aerial bars, and then, beginning in 1948, spent 20 years touring the US as Jerry Hickson - musician, MC and comedian. He has "lost track of" the number of his marriages, though he has two children with his second wife. (Esther has two children from her first marriage; her daughter Tracy works with the Hicks.)
"I believe you've said that, as a young man, you had a fist fight every week and used to kick cars."
"Because of drink?"
"You were sober? That's worse. You must have been pretty angry about something."
"I wanted justice. If I saw somebody mistreating somebody I went after them. I never hit anyone that didn't think they were stronger than me. And I have never killed anybody, whether I got paid for it or not."
"Any jail time at all?"
When I ask Jerry to tell me about people he met in show business, he mentions a dancer, Nichelle Nichols, who would become Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek (Nichols did not respond to my attempts to contact her); he also worked with the veteran comedian Rip Taylor. "I have no memory of him," Taylor later told me. "And I remember everybody."
Jerry says he came across Napoleon Hill's Think And Grow Rich by chance, in a motel, and now realises that many of the principles described by the former journalist were consistent with the Law of Attraction.
This suggestion isn't so absurd as it might sound. Similar theories to those voiced by the Hicks can be found in generations of American self-help books, dating back to William Walker's 1906 Thought Vibration, or The Law of Attraction in the Thought World. The idea of alchemic generation of wealth is a little older than that, of course, and Rhonda Byrne's DVD suggests - without troubling to offer any evidence - that it helps explain the success of Plato and Shakespeare.
Jerry hands me a 1980 edition of Think And Grow Rich: a reprint of Hill's original manuscript, before it was altered by earlier publishers. Hicks has highlighted every change. References to spirit, and vibration, are everywhere.
"All of this was sort of dead," Esther says. "Then Abraham, through me, began reviving it."
"Can I ask Abraham a couple of questions?"
"Sure." Esther takes off her earrings.
"I have to remove my jewellery," she says. "Or they do it for me."
She nods gently; her breathing deepens.
"We are here," she says, her eyes closed. "Nice to have an opportunity to visit."
"You spoke yesterday about the way in which desire can make something happen, and that nothing is impossible. Isn't it important to realise that some things will never come to you? However much I still want to wear the number seven shirt for Manchester United, occupied [at the time of writing] by Cristiano Ronaldo, I've accepted that this isn't going to happen."
"In cases like this, where there is not sincere desire..."
"Trust me, there is."
"Well, if there is sincere desire, and you bring your belief into alignment with it, it can be. People say: could I grow back an arm that has been amputated... is this really possible? We say yes."
"Could the following of Abraham become as widespread as Catholicism, or Judaism?"
"We are at the heart of the majority of religions you would know."
"So other people are doing the same work?"
"That which Jesus Christ was, Esther is now. Not Esther alone. That which Buddha was, Esther is now. That which Mohammed was, Esther is now."
"When you suggested, in Fort Collins yesterday, that if you think about a thing it will come to you whether you want it or not, and that a person draws their destiny to them; when I heard that, the words that came into my mind were: Auschwitz, Bialystock and Dachau. Are you saying that six million Jews invited extermination upon themselves?"
"We would never say they invited it wantingly or knowingly. But we unequivocally say that nothing happens to anyone without a predominant vibration that matches it." Just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, she says, "the people who did not want inconvenience left right away. People who are not accustomed to managing their life well, stayed."
"The poor people stayed."
"They are poor in vibration before they are poor in manifestation."
"Are you Jewish?" Jerry asks me, immediately Abraham has gone, and Esther is back.
He tells a story about how he defended a Jewish schoolfriend against a woodwork teacher, Mr Mendoza, who then smashed Jerry's term project, a birdhouse, and gave him zero out of 10.
"I told my daddy: 'I have decided to kill Mr Mendoza.' Daddy said: 'You shouldn't kill a man without letting him know why he is going to die.' So I told Mr Mendoza: 'I am planning to kill you. You failed me on woodworking. I build chicken houses. You can't flunk me on a birdhouse. That had to do with your prejudice against Jewish people.' I would give a nickel to know," Jerry adds, "was it just the Christians that were after the Jews? Were the Muslims prejudiced against them so much?"
"I think you could trace that enmity through many centuries."
"So what did they [the Jews] do to bring that on themselves, do you suppose?" asks Jerry.
"I don't believe the Jews did bring that on themselves."
"Abraham," Esther says, "told us early on that the person receiving prejudice is the one who has the vibration that is attracting it. If I ever find myself feeling like a victim, things like that start happening to me."
"You say 'things like that' - the Holocaust?"
"Well, no - that's big big big big big big big. I mean, it's ... huge. Probably the most victimised I have felt was over The Secret; but every part of it that happened, I acknowledge that there was a vibrational component of it within me."
"What about the infants who were murdered in concentration camps. What had they done wrong?"
"It's not a matter of having done wrong," says Jerry.
"The behaviour of the children is like the behaviour of their parents," Esther says. "We learn our vibrations early on. That's what tribal wars are about."
"Most people would have a few problems with that philosophy."
"We argued with Abraham for several years: what about the babies? We die. I believe that death is often the downstream option. It's certainly downstream from starvation. We had chickens for a few years. We had this one chicken, Renegade, who wouldn't stay in the yard. She went to the neighbours', where there were dogs. And sure enough the neighbour's dog..."
"Snuggles," says Jerry.
"Snuggles got her. Jerry saw that. Didn't you shoot a gun..."
"That startled the chicken, which regained consciousness and came home. Abraham said, she's getting ready to be dead. From experiences like that, I don't think that death is a bad thing."
How we got quite so quickly from Auschwitz to Snuggles, I'm still not sure. What's certain is that the mark of an orthodox charlatan is that they repeat whatever the listener wishes to hear. On the basis of these last exchanges, you can hardly accuse Esther and Jerry Hicks of cynically courting popularity. Which would suggest that they are motivated, to some degree at least, by what their followers would call belief, and their critics would term delusion.
There are certain aspects of her world view, I explain to Esther, that I find disturbing.
"We know," she replies. From choice, she says, she would never do another interview. "I'm sitting here and I am uncomfortable because people don't like Mormons, people don't like Amway, people don't like channellers."
"You talked to Oprah."
"Just the radio show. Oprah ... I love her.
If you download the three Oprah Winfrey Abraham shows from XM radio, you'll discover that the affection sounds generally mutual. "I can't get enough of her," Winfrey says of Esther at one point - though the presenter does add that: "I am not talking to you on television because too many people would be weirded out."
She had Rhonda Byrne on her TV show twice.
"Oprah doesn't think her television audience is ready for something so leading edge as Abraham," says Esther. "I want people who are ready for us to find us."
"What do you do with all this money? Are you funding a major famine-relief programme for orphans in Ethiopia?"
"What we are teaching," Jerry says, "is that you don't attract through need, but through desire. Like, we were in a little restaurant in San Francisco a while back and the waitress was just so wonderful. We gave her this envelope, with all the cash from that day's workshop. She yelled: 'Oh my God, you can't believe what you have done for me. I was going to lose my apartment.' We said: 'If you'd told us that, we wouldn't have given you the money. We did it because you were wonderful.' "
She's far from the only waitress, Jerry assures me, to have benefited in this way.
"And this guy that changed our tyre," he recalls. "We gave him a huge amount of money. I said, 'You told me you wanted to go into business.' He was so bright. We don't do charities."
Some very large donations, the couple point out, have been returned. Where contributions are accepted, Esther explains, "we send a letter that says we are not a religion, so this is not tax deductible, and we put it in the bank and..." She pauses. "There is a lot of money in that bank account. We'll do something with it, some day."